How to Format a Flash Drive to Work On OS X and Windows

Have you ever ran into a problem where you’re trying to use a flash drive on both Windows and Mac? Here’s how to correctly format the drive to work on both.

Compatibility between OS X and Windows have never been better. Both use many of the same industry standards and technologies providing greater ease for users of both platforms. Examples of the increased compatibility include Boot Camp software for running Windows on a Mac and the Microsoft Office productivity suite. Unfortunately, both still maintain some legacy standards that don’t play nice with each other.

OS X uses the HFS+ file system, while Windows uses the NTFS file system that shares little in common. This makes it difficult to move data between the two unless you have them networked together. If you’re working in a mixed environment, where you might need to work on files between both systems, a handy solution is to use a thumb drive. Before you start, though, make sure your thumb drive is formatted so it can work on both Windows and OS X.

Prepare a Thumb Drive for Both Windows and OS X

On Windows, connect your thumb drive. Click Start > File Explorer > This PC. Right-click your flash drive and then select Format.

 Format 1

In the File System list box, choose exFAT, type in a Volume Label if you want, and then click Start.

Format 2

Click OK to the format warning and wait until the process is complete.

Format 2a

Prepare Thumb Drive on OS X

If you only use a Mac computer, you can format your thumb drive so it can work on Windows systems.

Connect the thumb drive to your Mac. Launch Disk Utility, press Command+Space then type: disk utility. Select your thumb drive in the Disk Utility window then click the Erase tab. In the Format list box select ExFAT, enter a Volume Label if you want, then click Erase.

Disk utility exfat

Now you’ll be able to save and copy files to your thumb drive on both Windows and OS X.

Microsoft introduced exFAT in 2006; it’s an optimized version of FAT providing better performance advantages over FAT32. It is also widely supported by memory storage technology companies and third-party operating systems like OS X and Linux.



  1. RC  

    Thank you so much.
    Your explanation was nice and easy.
    Much appreciated

  2. Tom  

    Thanks so much. I never would of thought to re-format the thumb drive.

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